Never Real, But Very Much Alive

Now that I’ve told you about my favorite dead author, let me tell you about the favorite who is very much alive: Jan Karon.

I’ve read Jan Karon’s Mitford series about ten times… and I’m looking forward to another delicious re-read this summer.

One day, when she was wondering what to write, Jan envisioned an Episcopalian priest walking down the street. She decided to follow him and watch where he went. And Father Tim Kavanagh and Mitford were born.

Father Tim is a warm-hearted, never-married, sixty-something, who lives and pastors his flock in the tiny village of Mitford, North Carolina. He’s into gardening, reading, caring for others, and following hard after his God. He’s not so good at taking care of his own needs, or at feeling confident he’s doing enough for the people he loves.

The Mitford novels are more character-driven and relationship-driven than plot-driven. So… I admit they don’t appeal to those who need sharp, fast action in their reading. (When I defended them that way to my 15-year-old niece, another voracious reader, she declared, “Those books aren’t driven by anything!”) However, the later Mitford books, while remaining character-driven, do contain a lot more action, as well.

Since I obviously don’t crave that fast-paced action, what does bring me back to Jan Karon over and over again? (And what has made thousands of other readers into devoted Mitford fans?)

For one, her wordcrafting. I learn something about good writing every time I read a Mitford book.

But all that great wordcrafting would be useless without her characters…

Ten summers ago, on my seventh or eighth Mitford read-through, I found myself weeping hard for Dooley, the troubled 11-year-old boy who comes to stay with Father Tim for just a little while… but ends up staying forever.

Weeping for a beloved, heart-broken story character — that was okay. Perfectly normal in this house, to tell the truth.

But then I caught myself praying for Dooley, and planning to contact Jan Karon so she could tell Dooley that, way up here in Canada, there’s a lady who cares about him and what he’s going through. I did manage to remind myself, in time, that Dooley isn’t real!

No, Dooley isn’t real. Nor is Father Tim. Nor is Cynthia, the sparkling wife who comes to Father Tim oh-so-late-but-just-in-time. Puny, Miss Sadie, Louella and Lace aren’t real either.

No, none of Jan’s characters is real, but she writes so well, her characters live.

If you haven’t already met the Mitford characters, I hope you’ll have time to make some new friends this summer.

Pick up At Home in Mitford, find a quiet place for several hours, and get to know Father Tim and his friends. As you move on to Light in the Window; then A Common Life; These High Green Hills; Out to Canaan; New Song and In This Mountain , I hope they’ll come alive in your heart, too.

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~ by Laureen Guenther on July 10, 2011.

3 Responses to “Never Real, But Very Much Alive”

  1. i once felt about a character like you did about Dooley. I was pregnant with my first daughter and on bedrest, so I was reading Bodie Thoene’s series from front to back. One night I desperately needed to get out of bed and out of our basement apartment to see if the world was still spinning so we took a quick run to 7-11. While my husband browsed the store I stood still near the front cash. I saw a carousel of greeting cards, and it ‘hit me’ that a ‘friend’ had recently had a baby. I bought a Congratulations card, but when my husband asked which friend had had a baby, I couldn’t remember and counted it as pregnant-brain-memory-loss. Once we got to the car I nearly killed myself laughing because I realized I had just bought a baby card for a fictional character in the series I’d just read!!

    Good writing changes lives… affects lives… and they live in us!! I agree! Thanks for a great review.

  2. I love that you did this! Thanks for a great laugh.

    I wonder how many other closet readers have blurred the line between fiction and reality. Anybody else want to confess today? You’ll feel so much better, knowing you’re not alone….

    Carla Anne, you’re so right — good writing does change lives. Some people say, “It’s just a story”, but I say, “Stories have power!”

  3. I know how it feels to be so connected to a character in a book and almost living as though they were real and wishing they were! I would love to meet some of the characters I have read about! I wish I could transport myself to their world. Thanks for the post and I can’t wait to see what else you write here!

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